By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
We learned Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin is under criminal investigation by the State Attorney's Office for her dealings in the Town of Southwest Ranches.
And Commissioner Stacy Ritter's name has surfaced in yet another state investigation involving developer Bruce Chait. Along with his son Shawn, Chait has already been charged with bribery, unlawful compensation, and perjury. He allegedly paid off former Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion in exchange for his vote on a controversial housing project in Tamarac.
Yes, it's exciting times at County Hall, and all three of these stories were broken on my blog, the Daily Pulp, but I won't mention that (again). Here's the skinny on the three developments.
The crux of the suspicion concerning Keechl is the rental of his little bungalow at 612 NE 26th St. in Wilton Manors to his campaign.
It would appear that Keechl and Adcock are a bit upside down on the property. The 1,200-square-foot home/office sold for $92,000 in 2001. They bought it for $455,000 near the top of the real estate bubble in 2006. Today, it's appraised at just $232,300.
Thankfully, Keechl and Adcock have a rock-solid renter who, like clockwork, pays the hefty sum of $3,100 a month on the property.
The renter? It's candidate Keechl, who is running unopposed. He made the converted office his campaign headquarters and cuts the check each month from his giant war chest of more than $330,000.
It would seem that such an arrangement might be construed as the mayor personally benefiting from his campaign — a no-no — but Keechl, through his law firm, said he checked it out and determined it was legal so long as he's paying fair market value for the property. He said the same thing about his $4,000-plus trip with Adcock to San Francisco, saying the high-class travel was to attend a gay leadership conference. He also defends thousands of dollars being spent on lunches, dinners, wine, gasoline, and petty cash dispersals.
The truth is that campaign law is pretty loose when it comes to that kind of spending so long as he can prove he was meeting with a potential supporter. Most candidates, however, don't engage in such high living on their campaigns for the sake of appearance. Keechl went all out, though, and where I believe he is vulnerable is on the rent he's paying himself and Adcock. From realtor's listings and other resources, it appears to be high — perhaps as much as $1,000 a month too much. That could open the door into an investigation that could spell big trouble for the mayor.
Ritter told me last week that she accepted a golf cart from developer Bruce Chait, the developer who has been charged in a state bribery case involving Eggelletion.
Remember that Ritter supported Chait's housing project in Tamarac and voted, as a commissioner, to approve it on August 22, 2006. Chait's firm, Prestige Homes, won the county's approval for the project, which was to be built on two golf courses, Monterrey and Sabal Palms. Before her vote to approve the project, Ritter didn't disclose that she had received the cart, which she claimed was worth less than $500. Her father, Ed Portner, was mayor of Tamarac at the time and was also a crucial supporter of the project.
After I asked her about the golf cart allegation, Ritter confirmed Chait had given her a golf cart from one of the golf courses he'd purchased to build townhomes. She initially indicated that the cart was an in-kind contribution from Chait when she was running for office but then said she couldn't remember if it was a contribution or if she paid for it.
"It might have been an in-kind contribution, it might have been a personal check, but it was under $500," Ritter said during a lunch break at last week's County Commission meeting. "I just don't remember. I absolutely got it from [Chait], but I was not in office at the time."
I'm not buying that the cart was worth less than $500. You can't get a cart that runs for that price. Sources have told me that the cart was in great condition when she received it.
Ritter told me she couldn't recall when she received the cart but said it was definitely between her exit from the Florida Legislature in 2004 and her election to the County Commission in 2006. During that time, she was running for both the state Senate, a bid she dropped, and the County Commission.
Chait contributed $2,000 total — including the maximum $500 apiece from himself, his wife, his son, and Prestige — to her Senate campaign. Those contributions were either spent during the Senate campaign or rolled over to her county campaign. Chait was pushing his housing project at the time. Ritter said her acceptance of the golf cart had nothing to do with her elected office or her vote for the project.
She used it for riding around in her neighborhood in Parkland, though she claimed that now it is "old and broken-down." She said she received it after the Chaits bought the golf courses and liquidated its assets, including golf carts.
"I know I got it from the Chaits from the old golf course," Ritter told me. "I don't know if I personally paid for it. I was a private citizen. I was not in elected office. They were getting rid of the golf course stuff, and I live in a community where there are a lot of golf carts, even though it's not a golf community."